Category Archives: US politics

IPS piece: ‘Republicans Attack Obama on Palestine Policy’

… is here, and also archived here.
It deals primarily with Huckabee but also with other important US pols who went on partisanly sponsored junkets to Israel and the OPTs in recent weeks (Cantor, Hoyer, etc.)
I had some quotes in the piece from the J. Post’s Herb Keinon. He had an excellent piece of reporting in Thursday’s paper. It seems like he had accompanied Huckabee on some of his trips around various (completely illegal) Jewish settlements– including ones in occupied E. Jerusalem and one “unauthorized” settlement outpost.
He’s clearly making a bid for Evangelical grassroots support in the US and assuming that evangelicals are overwhelmingly pro-settler.
Herb Keinon is worth reading. It seems that he (in the form of the un-named “Israeli journalist” he refers to) couldn’t believe that an ultra-rightist like Huckabee might actually be someone with some influence/following in US politics…
Also definitely worth reading on Huckabee are Spencer Ackerman and Matt Duss (1 and 2.)

Huckabee’s pro-settler stance part of bigger US shift

Former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is in Israel this week. He’s making a point of touring many of Israel’s (illegal) settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. (Richard Silverstein has one version of Huck’s settlement-focused itinerary in this very informative blog post.)
While visiting with Jewish settlers in occupied east Jerusalem today, he said the U.S. should not “be telling Jewish people in Israel where they should and should not live.”
At the same time that Huckabee is hanging out with people in the Israelis settlements, so is another figure from the US rightwing, Orly Taitz, known as the “Queen Bee of the birther movement”– that is, the movement of those rightwing Americans who are obsessed with the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US and is therefore ineligible to be president.
Like Huckabee, Taitz has strongly criticized Pres. Obama’s campaign to persuade Israel to halt its settlement-building program.
The participation of these two figures from US politics in the orbit of Israel’s settler extremists is part of a deeper shift in US politics. It used to be that just about all of the US Democratic Party was staunchly pro-Israel and would line up like clockwork to defend Israel’s perceived interests, including against any policies of the US administration that might seek to curb Israeli expansionism and militarism.
Back then– oh, let’s say through the end of the 1990s– if you’d hear much open criticism of the Israeli government’s policies from participants in US national politics, it would nearly always come from Republicans.
But over the years things have been slowly changing. (Though still incompletely, as for example here.)
Now, almost no-one in the Democratic Party is prepared to side with this government of Israel against Obama’s extremely reasonable campaign on the settlements issue. And it is the right wing in the country– including not only such seeming nutters as the Israeli-American Orly Taitz but also someone much nearer the GOP mainstream like Mike Huckabee– who are at the forefront of the campaign to “defend” the Israeli government against the policies of the US president.
There are a number of reasons for this shift, which in my view is long overdue. Speaking as someone who is both an upholder of Palestinian (as well as Israeli) rights and generally on the left of the US political spectrum, I can say that for many, many years it felt pretty darn lonely in the camp of “PIPs”– Americans who are Progressive, Including on Palestine. The camp of Americans who were PEPs– Progressive, Except on Palestine– always seemed so much larger. Until the past few years.
(I think this PIP/PEP nomenclature was developed by the estimable Phil Weiss, who is definitely at the forefront of today’s PIPs.)

Walt on McNamara

The single best commentary that I’ve seen on the life of Robert McNamara, who died recently, was this one from Stephen Walt.
Walt wrote this:

    Some commentators see McNamara as a tragic figure; a talented, driven, and dedicated public servant who mishandled a foolish war and spent the remainder of his life trying to atone for it. The obituary in today’s New York Times takes this line, describing him as having “spent the rest of his life wrestling with the war’s moral consequences,” and as someone who “wore the expression of a haunted man.”
    I see his fate differently. Unlike the American soldiers who fought in Indochina, or the millions of Indochinese who died there, McNamara did not suffer significant hardship as a result of his decisions. He lived a long and comfortable life, and he remained a respected member of the foreign policy establishment. He had no trouble getting his ideas into print, or getting the media to pay attention to his pronouncements. Not much tragedy there.

Precisely.
Walt goes on to note that despite McNamara’s having been so terribly, terribly wrong about the US war in Vietnam, he not only continued to be given powerful (and very well-paid) jobs and to be treated by others in the US establishment as an important source of wisdom– he also continued to act as if he were indeed such a source, “lecturing” everyone who cared to listen (and many did) on this, that, or the next thing.
True, some of his “lectures” were well-argued and to the point. But Walt is right to point to the essential lack of humility with which this coldly technocratic guy continued to act in the world.
Walt also importantly links the way the US political elite treated McNamara after Vietnam with the way it treats the architects of the much more recent Bush-era foreign-policy disasters/crimes, today:

    Overall, McNamara’s post-Vietnam behavior raises a broader question about the role of former officials who have led their country into major disasters. Ordinarily, we should respect the men and women who have devoted years of their lives to public service and listen carefully to the counsel of those who have the benefit of long experience…
    But in some cases — and a lot of former Bush administration officials come to mind here — the failures are of sufficient gravity as to render all subsequent advice suspect. And when a government official’s repeated errors have left thousands of their fellow citizens dead or grievously wounded, along with hundreds of thousands of other human beings, it would be more seemly for them to remain silent, in mute acknowledgement of their own mistakes. And if they persist in pontificating — as Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, and Dick Cheney are now doing — a nation that understood the importance of accountability might have the good sense to pay them the attention and respect they deserve. Which is to say: none.

Excellent point, Steve. My own thoughts exactly. And excellently expressed.
Douglas Feith and John Yoo also come to mind as those who should be subjected to a modern-day form of shunning.
Also, regarding Elliott Abrams, of course he had encountered public disgrace earlier, back in the 1980s, when he was convicted for perjury for his role in the Iran-Contra scam. (Later pardoned.) But that didn’t stop him, soon thereafter, from being treated as a “valued source” for opinion on all kinds of things; and it was by being rehabilitated in that way by the MSM and other public institutions that he became “kosher enough” to be appointed by Pres. Bush to his NSC staff.
How much better for the world if instead of that very effective public rehabilitation having happened, Abrams had continued to be publicly shunned from the time of his conviction onwards. Pardon or no pardon.
Yes, I am for forgiveness. But I am also for accountability. And none of these people deserves any public forgiveness until after they have shown through their words and their deeds that they fully understand the harm that they have caused to other fellow-humans through their previous actions, and that they are ready to work to try to repair some of that harm.
McNamara, toward the very end of his life– in, for example, the Fog of War movie– started to express some of the necessary remorse. But throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s he still failed to do so, and he continued to be treated with great public respect and deference by most members of the US elite. Including (but not limited to) the media elite.
That paved the way for travesties like the “rehabilitation” of Elliott Abrams (and, to a lesser extent, the “rehabilitation” of other Iran-Contra-era figures like Robert “Bud” Macfarlane.)
Maybe now is finally time to stop that long-running cycle of giving all these pernicious guys a public “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

White House (still) guiding Middle East policy

After George Mitchell’s appointment as Israeli-Arab peace envoy was announced January 22, I noted (also here) that the way it had happened indicated he would be reporting to both the president and the secretary of state.
When Mitchell returned from his first “listening visit” to the region, he made his report-back primarily to the prez.
Early this morning, Laura Rozen had a blog post in which she demonstrated the degree to which the Obama White House is continuing to keep its hands firmly on the conduct of Israeli-Arab diplomacy.
She writes this, about the meeting Israeli prez Shimon Peres had at the White House yesterday:

    Clinton was not at the meeting, though as noted earlier she met with Peres separately at his hotel.
    “The White House won’t let her on TV on the Sunday morning talk shows,” a plugged-in Washington Middle East hand observed. “Who is talking about foreign policy on those shows? Axelrod. Who is showing up at the meeting with Obama-Peres? Axelrod. They are controlling the message.” [Btw, this anonymous source is most likely the same Steve Cohen who is liberally quoted by name elsewhere in the post, but here speaking off the record.]
    “They’ve never even had her even on Charlie Rose,” he added. “You have not really seen the secretary of state in the U.S. media; you’ve seen her in the international media. Who is their main messenger on foreign policy?”
    (An aide confirmed Clinton hadn’t been on the Sunday talk shows since the campaign.)
    The plugged in Washington Middle East observer noted that Clinton was not sent by the administration to address the AIPAC conference, either. Instead, Vice President Joseph Biden was dispatched, where he called for Israel to stop its settlement expansion.
    “Biden is the person who is perceived as a very experienced foreign-policy hand who has a very solid relationship with Israel, but that relationship is solidly based on American strategic analysis,” Cohen said. “And not affected so much by the Clinton experience of being a [former] New York senator.”

Higher up in her post, Rozen had zeroed in on the fact that, though Clinton was not at the White House meeting, Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and political adviser, David Axelrod, were.
She writes this– again, liberally quoting Steve Cohen, largely as a kind of inside-the-shtetl story:

    Emanuel and Axelrod are two high-level Jewish members of Obama’s administration; they have been increasingly enlisted in recent weeks to build support within the Jewish-American community for a two-state solution in the face of resistance from the new Netanyahu government…

I don’t see it exactly the same way. Yes, there is clearly an inside-the-shtetl aspect to it. But the importance of these two men– Emanuel and Axelrod– is far greater than just their Jewish credentials. They are the president’s two leading political advisers and operatives. If he is gearing up for a Bush(1)/Baker style of confrontation with a Likud government in Israel, he will need to be planning a strategy that covers all the domestic political bases, not just the Jewish one. (And at this point, probably a larger proportion of evangelical Christians would be prepared to fight hard for this government of Israel than the proportion of Jewish Americans who would be so inclined.)
So from this perspective, it is probably a good thing that these two very savvy (and perhaps only coincidentally Jewish) political operatives were in the room. Especially at the exact same time that AIPAC has been flooding the offices of members of congress with citizen-lobbyists arguing that the US must let Israel completely dictate the pace of any moves towards peace.
Because of the extreme permeability of the US political system– especially at the level of members of the House of Representatives– to the influence of pro-Israelis (whether Jewish or not), any US policy that affects Israel is never simply a matter of “foreign” policy. For the president to succeed, he has to be able to use his own immense powers of persuasion not just on the foreign leaders and publics concerned– but also on his own public and congress.
Over the next couple of weeks, Obama will be receiving Israel’s Netanyahu, Egypt’s Mubarak, and Ramallastan’s Abbas in the White House. Sometime soon after that, he is expected to come out with some more definitive policy initiatives. That is when we need to see Obama using his “bully pulpit” of presidential influence– and using it domestically, as well as internationally.

Give Me An I

and an S, and an R,A,E and L
Whaddya got? You got the Israel 2009 pep rally, more formally known as the “AIPAC Policy Conference: The pro-Israel community’s preeminent annual gathering, with world leaders and activists, Policy Conference 2009, May 3-5, Washington, D.C.”
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee calls itself America’s Pro-Israel Lobby. The annual Israel pep rally is unique. There is no other country that has a promotional pep rally like this. Imagine, Israel is only about the size of New Jersey, with a million less people than New Jersey, and yet the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has such clout. I’m guessing that there’s money involved. Lots of money.
The 2009 Israel Pep Rally promises to a blockbuster. If it’s anything like previous years it’ll feature 7,000 people, paying $499 each, including half the US Senate and many House members. It’ll be followed by 500 meetings with lawmakers in furtherance of policies and programs friendly to Israel.
To get a real feeling of the content and energy level, view the video here.

Continue reading

Harman/Saban update

A propos of today’s Jane Harman story, Josh Marshall has been raising questions as to whether the “Israeli agent” mentioned in yesterday’s CQ piece might be Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul who also bought a huge amount of power and influence in Washington by buying out the whole the Brookings Institution’s Middle East research operation (since renamed the “Saban Center.”)
I have a few points to make regarding this:
1. An excellent late 2006 profile of, and interview with, Saban can be found here. It’s by Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz. You can learn a lot about Saban there, including his deep “passion” for Israel and the almost child-like delight he has in his ability to use his immense wealth to wield political power, e.g. in this section:

    “I’m not after power. But I do not belittle the fact that I can go to Angela Merkel in the Chancellory and say, ‘Hi, Angela, how are you?’ And she replies, ‘Haim, nice to see you.’ I don’t minimize that. That’s a great pleasure. And that I sit with Clinton in the White House and he goes to the refrigerator and asks me if I want regular water or fizzy? Sometimes I tell myself that there’s something a bit nutty here. He’s the president of the United States. I sell cartoons. So he is going to serve me and ask if I want regular or fizzy water?”
    Do you have the feeling that you are living in a movie?
    “I’m living in a movie all the time.”

2. Saban presents himself there as an Israeli-American, and he is almost certainly still a citizen of Israel (where he spent 19 years of his youth) as well as of the US. I am a dual citizen myself– of the UK and the US. I don’t know whether the holding of a foreign passport makes it “easier”, in US legal terms, for the NSA to wiretap a person. (Anyway, I always figured Dick Cheney would have been listening to my phone calls regardless of my nationality.)
For Saban’s part, from the Shavit interview he seems fairly strongly predisposed to go to bat for purely Israeli interests, even where these might clash with US interests, whereas since becoming naturalized as a US citizen in 1988 I have never felt the slightest urge to go to bat for British interests at the expense of any US interests at all. I don’t intervene in any way in British politics, and though Her Majesty might be shocked to learn this, I carry her passport mainly as a matter or personal and professional convenience at this point.
3. Anyway, if some of the heavy hitters in the US media would put some shoe-leather and other resources into reporting this story we’d have a far better idea of the identity of the un-named “Israeli agent”– who may or may not be an Israeli or a dual Israeli-US national– the wiretapping of whom led to the record of the call with Harman in the first place. Why have the WaPo and the NYT not yet published anything on this story?

Jewish American opinion evolving on Palestine

The progressive Jewish lobbying group J Street has published the results of a new nationwide poll it conducted of Jewish Americans between February 28 and March 8.
The poll had some encouraging results. J Street’s own press release about it highlighted the following findings:

    * American Jews remain remarkably supportive of assertive American efforts to achieve Middle East peace. The poll finds an extraordinarily strong base of 69 percent of American Jews firmly supporting active American engagement in bringing about Middle East peace, even if it means publicly disagreeing with or exerting pressure on both Arabs and Israelis, compared to 66 percent eight months ago;
    * 69 percent also support the U.S. working with a unified Hamas-Fatah Palestinian Authority government to achieve a peace agreement with Israel, even when informed that the U.S. does not recognize Hamas due to its status as a terrorist organization and its refusal to recognize Israel. Interestingly, a March poll conducted by the Truman Institute at Hebrew University reported that 69 percent of Israelis also think Israel should negotiate with a joint Hamas-Fatah government;
    * By 76-24 percent, American Jews support a two-state, final status deal between Israel and the Palestinians along the lines of the agreement nearly reached eight years ago during the Camp David and Taba talks;
    * On Avigdor Lieberman: When told about Lieberman’s campaign platform requiring Arab citizens of Israel to sign loyalty oaths, as well as his threats against Arab Members of Knesset, American Jews opposed these positions by a 69 to 31 margin. One in three believe their own connection to Israel will be diminished if Lieberman assumes a senior position in the Israeli cabinet.
    * On Gaza: While Jews rallied behind Israel and approved of Israel’s military action by a 3 to 1 margin, 59 percent still felt that the military action had no impact on Israel’s security (41 percent) or made Israel less secure (18 percent), while only 41 percent felt it made Israel more secure.

To me, the second of these findings is the most significant. It means that if Obama and his envoy sen. Mitchell move quickly and surefootedly toward including Hamas in the search for calming, de-escalation, and a speedy final resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, he can expect to rally significant support for this approach from within the US Jewish community.
Of course, an inclusive policy such as this could also be expected to arouse the ire of most of the old hard-line organizations that like to portray themselves as representatives of the “mainstream” US Jewish community. But guess what. The “main” stream has been trickling out of its old tired stream-bed for some time now and carving out its own much more principled and humane way of looking at Middle east peace issues.
Also highly relevant in this context: The notably positive tone of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s recent statements about Pres. Obama— as reported here.
I have the full text of that interview bookmarked someplace. But it is also significant that it’s being featured in that way on the pro-Hamas PIC website today.
In fact Meshaal’s reactions to Obama are much warmer than those of Iranian Supreme Guide Khamene’i.
(Some people believe– and argue– that Meshaal, being based in Damascus, is more hardline than the Hamas leaders on the ground inside Gaza or the West Bank. This is absolutely not true. In some respects he is more ready to be politically flexible than they are. Plus, he is the overall leader and inside the organization his word is the gold standard.)

Panetta vs. the Intelligence Community?

(Hat tip to Eric H) CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta, the self-described “creature of congress,” appears to have brushed aside the collective findings of the intelligence community regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program. At his Senate confirmation hearings yesterday, fellow democrat, Senator Evan Bayh asked: “Is it your belief that Iran is seeking a nuclear military capability? Or are their interests solely limited to the civilian sphere?”
Panetta then replied, “From all the information that I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”
By contrast, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, issuing the collective view of 16 different US intelligence agencies, found that,

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program…. We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.”

For all of the problems of the intelligence community, a veteran insider wisely warned me 20 years ago that, “the worst thing that can happen to the intelligence process is if analysts tailor their reports to please perceived wishes of their political masters. Former DIA chief Pat Lang famously called it, “drinking the koolaid.”
If I were a Senator in follow-up hearings, I’d want to press Congressman Panetta to see what he really meant. Does he know something about Iran’s nuclear programs since 2007? Was he misunderstanding a leading question? Does he come into office disagreeing with the considered understanding not just of the CIA, but of the entire intelligence community? Does he intend to require those he would supervise to re-write their reports to match pre-formed conclusions?

Some great (but under-heard) experts on the Muslim world

The United States is deeply involved in the politics of the world’s scores of majority-Muslim countries, which in turn occupy a number of the top slots on Washington’s foreign-policy agenda. So why is the U.S. public discourse on the affairs of the Muslim world so heavily dominated by people who have little actual professional training or close familiarity with these countries? Why have the thousands of Americans– academics and others– who have such expertise been so broadly excluded from input into either policy or the mainstream public discussion about policy?
Our country has suffered very badly in recent years– in Iraq, and in many other parts of the world– from the exclusion, marginalization, and suppression of the expertise of the many thousands of Americans who know a lot about the majority-Muslim world.
How different will things be in the new era of President Barack (Hussein) Obama? We still need to wait and see. We need to look at a broad range of indicators about the tenor of public life and the climate of opinion both inside and outside the halls of government before we can find an answer. Inside government, will we once again see the entire team of people working on Arab-Israeli issues made up of people with strong pro-Israeli biases and precious little actual expertise in the affairs of the Arab world? Outside government, will we continue to see the op-ed pages of the major newspapers and the ranks of alleged “experts” on the Middle East paraded on the major t.v. shows dominated by people with similar bias and a similar lack of actual, proven expertise?
There are a few reasons for optimism. One is, of course, the election of Barack Obama himself. He won despite the circulation by his opponents of numerous rumors and attempted “smears” to the effect that he was “a secret Muslim” or “a secret Arab”, and that therefore his election would cause great harm to Israel and to America. Note the unspoken assumption that a person has to be either pro-Israeli or pro-Muslim: That’s polarizing zero-sum thinking at work for you, right there.
Obama and his campaign team overcame those slurs at the ballot-box. That shows that the fear-dominated, zero-sum approach used by his opponents was not ‘bought’ by the majority of those who voted. (Media bookers and think-tank heads around the US: take good note of the American people’s good sense!)
Another reason for optimism is quieter, though it was on good show Tuesday at an excellent program run by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group here in Washington, DC. What was on show was a program the Carnegie Corporation of New York has been running for four years now, which has sought to support the work of American scholars on the Muslim world. Each year, the program has offered “up to $100,000” to 20 scholars, for a total of 80 scholars having been supported in their work so far.
So on Tuesday, the WFPG brought eight of these Carnegie Scholars to Washington DC, and provided an excellent (though necessarily small-scale) show-case for their work. Fwiw, seven of the eight featured scholars were women– some at the mid-career stage, some of them senior scholars.
I was blown away by the quality and depth of these people’s work– and also, by the poised, very effective way they were able to present it.
My immediate thought was: Why do we not see a lot more of people like this in the government, on the op-ed pages of newspapers, and on the t.v. talk shows?
Let me say this again: Poised. Articulate. Knowledgeable. Women (in the main.) With real expertise on important aspects of Muslim society.
Why are these people not showcased, and their expertise not consulted, in most of our national discussions on how our country interfaces with the Muslim world?
Why do we nearly always have the the same-old-same-old lineups of (mainly) white guys, pro-Israelis, continuing to bloviate about whole societies and countries of which, in fact, many of them know very little… and doing so with the name of some big-time Washington think-tank or well-funded elite university program beside their names?
Real area expertise: There is no substitute for this, if our country is to have any hope of minimizing the damage that our continuing blundering around the Muslim world will cause to all of humanity (including ourselves), if nothing changes.
So who were these talented Carnegie Scholars?
Asma Asfaruddin, professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame, who has done ground-breaking work that has identified considerable support in the early Muslim texts for the values of tolerance, consensus, and effective political representation.
Elizabeth Thompson, a historian of the late colonial period in the Middle East. Her presentation focused on what she described as “the first, broadest, constitution-writing gathering ever held in the Middle East”. Baghdad 2004? No, Damascus 1920. It was convened by King Faisal and included participants from throughout the Mashreq, many deeply inspired by Woodrow Wilson; leading Islamic reformer Rashid Ridha was a major participant, contributing many very helpful ideas; even the question of women’s suffrage was discussed… But guess what? The French armies came hurtling into Damascus and that whole democratic experiment was summarily stifled… We need to remember all this stuff here in Washington, DC!
Elora Shehabuddin, professor of humanities and political science at Rice University, talked about the construction of the category of a “moderate” Arab or Muslim in recent US politics… and how this nearly always had to include support for Israel, for US foreign policy, and support for either a neoconservative or neoliberal ideology.
(In the discussion among those three, Asfaruddin noted that a certain facile form of “colonial feminism” had been pursued by many westerners in the Muslim world for a long time now. “Focusing on the need to unveil women has often been a very low-cost substitute for doing anything substantive to improve the lives of women and their families…”)
John Bowen, professor of arts and sciences at Washington University, St. Louis. He gave us a little sampler from the work he’s been doing on the many different patterns of Muslim life (and different patterns of Islamist affiliation) that have emerged in different European countries.
Susan Moeller, a professor of media and international affairs at the University of Maryland who previously worked as a press photographer. Moeller was the only panelist who is not a specialist in some area of Muslim life, and she has only just started her research under the Carnegie Scholars program. (I’m not sure what it is.) But she provided one very helpful vignette, from her early days as a war photographer, that illustrated the point that that there are many editorial filters that, in the MSM, frame and limit what it is that viewers are actually ever allowed to see or hear.
Lila Abu-Lughod, professor of anthropology and gender studies at Columbia. She memorably shared one vignette from some of her extensive field-work in Egypt: She had asked an Egyptian peasant woman she had known for a long time how a dispute about female inheritance might get worked out, and the woman referred to a multiplicity of possible sources for defining and protecting a woman’s rights, including the state’s laws, Egyptian t.v. soap-operas, local tradition, and the rulings of a locally renowned religious scholar. Textured, thought-provoking, and “real”!
Madhavi Sunder a visiting prof at the University of Chicago Law School (so maybe Obama knows her already?) She talked about the empowering effects numerous women in different parts of the Muslim world, including Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Mauretania, and even Iran have experienced from sitting with each other in small groups and undertaking their own careful reading of core Islamic texts as a way to strengthen their ability to engage in the public discussions in their countries on core issues in family law. She noted that women from these Sisters in Islam groups in Morocco succeeded, in 2004, in winning a new, more favorable Islamic Family Law… One conclusion: “Reading the Kor’an in Kuala Lumpur may actually be more momentous than reading Lolita in Tehran.”
Sunder also called directly on Obama to “express solidarity with these existing reform movements in the Muslim world rather than joining in calls to ‘save’ Muslim women and using their circumstances as a justification for invasion and war.” A very hearty amen to that!
Farzaneh Milani, a professor of literature at the University of Virginia talked about the importance of Freedom of Movement (broadly defined) for women’s full development and social integration, and about many ironic and apparently contradictory ways in which this bundle of freedoms is granted or withheld in contemporary Iran. She noted, inter alia, that 64% of the students admitted to Iranian universities are women; the number of novels published by women authors in Tehran has increased 13-fold over the past decade, to 370 new works last year; and now Iran has a woman as the ‘national poet’. She concluded: “Yes, there is repression and gender exclusion from the highest offices in the land. But a complex mixture of achievements and drawbacks mark women’s lives in Iran today. All of them need to be taken into account.”
… I do have my own set of theories as to why voices like these ones are not heard or included nearly enough in the policy discourse and policy making of this country. Part of it has to do with the deliberate, long-pursued suppression of the voices of all who “dare” to question the policies of this or that Israeli government. Part to do with the twinned campaign the most ideological pro-Israel networks here have pursued to stuff government departments, think tanks, and op-ed rosters with their own ideological soul-mates…. But in the case of the women among these scholars there is another factor at work, too: A systematic bias in many reaches of society that devalues the work and expertise of women, and the continued, steady upward rolling of the male professional elevator in all the relevant fields.
After all, if a TV booker calls in the evening, how many women have a wife at home to do the housework and look after the kids while they run off to appear on the Lehrer Newshour, or whatever? How many women have enough spare time left over from their daily grind to go out and schmooze with editorial boards or well-connected politicos? Or to contribute to new tech-driven fora like “Bloggingheads,” or even just the regular old blogosphere? How many older male professionals systematically seek out women or “minority” colleagues to network with and support, rather than continuing to support fellow-scholars who look just like them? How many ambitious younger men use their sharp elbows and immense self-confidence simply to elbow women scholars of all ages out of the way?
So huge kudos to WFPG and the Carnegie Corporation for having pulled together such a great little conference here this week. But will their efforts contribute to a real and lasting enrichment of the public policy discourse in this country on the issues of vital concern between the US and the Muslim world?
Let’s wait and see. But the expertise is now, quite assuredly, there to be tapped.